How can gestures and words help you learn?

    • Topic: Cognitive Development

    • Location: Hall of Human Life

    Humans use gesture as a way to communicate, problem solve, and more. Previous work has shown that sometimes people produce gestures that provides information that is not found in their words. When problem solving, sometimes they give one answer in gesture, and another in speech. We want to know if this means that children can solve problems better if we help them use gestures while they answer.

    In this study, children (ages 2½-5) play a card game with different numbers of objects on it. Some children will be encouraged to use their words, others to use gestures, and some to use both words and gesture to talk about what is on the cards. In a separate game we will ask children to put a certain number of toys in a container (e.g., “Can you make TWO ducks jump into the pond?”). Some of the counting games will come before the card game and some will come after, so that we see if the card game will change how they count.

    We predict that children who are encouraged to use gesture in the card game will gesture more in subsequent tasks. We also predict that those children who use gesture more during the counting games will be more accurate.

    This research will help us understand how gesture might change how children solve problems, and whether the use of gesture increases performance on introductory numerical tasks.

    Infant & Child Cognition Lab at Boston College

        » Infant & Child Cognition Lab

    Activities to Try in the Hall of Human Life

    Talking With Your Hands

    Find the “What are you trying to say?” activity in the Communities environment. Many animals make noises to communicate, but human can convey more information through speech and gesture.

    Tell your child that you are going to pretend that you both cannot talk, and that you want them to guess what object you are thinking of. Pick a card from the Player 1 side and act it out. They can use the buttons on the Player 2 side to make their guesses.

    Most people prefer to talk, but gesture has its own advantages. Ask your child to think about when or why people might gesture when they’re not playing this kind of game. You can also encourage them to try getting you to guess.

    Activities to Try at Home

    Watch Their Hands

    Many people communicate with both verbal and non-verbal cues. Some non-verbal cues like crossing your arms, laughing, or crying are hard to miss, but some of the gestures we use can be very subtle.

    When you child tries to tell you something new, see if you notice any gestures. Their gestures may be unrelated, add to what they are trying to tell you, or provide additional emphasis through repetition. Their gestures may even tell a different story, which might indicate their thinking about the topic is changing.

    Gestures can also be useful for explaining things to children. You can observe when and how other people, or you yourself, add gestures to your explanation.

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